P-p-p-pausing Phase 2b

27 January, 2020

In Just Get HS2 Done, we urged Government to proceed with HS2 Phases 1 and 2a. We were also clear that there are problems with rail services in the North today that need addressing, not in 20 years’ time.

Leaks of the Oakervee Review of the project say that it urges Government to proceed with HS2 Phases 1 and 2a which is most welcome but that it also:

‘recommends that work on Phase 2b of the project from the West Midlands to Manchester and Leeds be paused for six months for a study into whether it could comprise a mix of conventional and high-speed lines instead’. (Source Financial Times, 20th January 2010)

There has been enough dither and delay already. The Oakervee Review was only due to take six weeks – and that was 6 months ago. Looking again at using existing lines (perhaps with upgrades)

Read on »

Just get HS2 done

22 January, 2020

The country is divided (40% of London businesses say it’s necessary, but 46% disagree in a Savanta/ComRes poll published this month); a decision on whether to proceed has dragged on for the last three years; it’s a project that impacts on the North especially strongly. Sound familiar?

Not Brexit (soo 2019), but HS2 – a key decision for the new decade. This one has been even longer in the making: plans were first published ten years ago, and have been the subject of Parliamentary scrutiny, ever since. Now is not the time for dawdle and dither.

In fairness, the Government obviously wants to get this one right, and to do so it will need to ignore some siren voices saying ‘build only part of it, say the bit in the North – save lots of £££ and address the area of greatest need’.

To understand why building in the North/starting in the North makes no sense and would bring a host of unwanted consequences, we need to remember that HS2 itself comes in three different size chunks. But this is not a goldilocks moment, as we explain (imagine cheese rather than porridge).

The first HS2 chunk (Phase 1) links the West Midlands to London. It’s big and mature: it has Parliamentary Powers, work has started (holes in the ground) and so can be delivered by 2030. The second chunk (known as Phase 2a) is much smaller and links the North West to the West Midlands. It sits happily atop Phase 1. While its Parliamentary Powers have not yet been signed off, there was provision to do so in the recent Queen’s Speech, so it too can be delivered by 2030, in fact, almost certainly sooner.

The third chunk (Phase 2b) is large again, and it connects the first two phases onwards into the centres of Leeds and Manchester. It serves the East Midlands and is mainly to be built in the North. But (and it’s a huge ‘but’), the Parliamentary process has not even begun for Phase 2b. This means that construction would probably be in the 2030s, with completion by 2040. Not our estimate, but the careful comments of HS2 Ltd Chairman Allan Cook advising Government last summer.

Yet, astonishingly, proceeding with ‘just the northern bit’ (Phase 2b) has been advocated by some who should know better. Once the penny drops, the politics alone would surely rule this out. What Northern MP could keep its constituents satisfied with a solution in 20 years’ time? The PM can’t plausibly postpone ‘regional levelling up’. It might look like it’s an approach that would cut the HS2 budget and target investment where it’s most wanted. But the problems that North of England commuters face today can’t be left unresolved for 20 years.

The Phase 2b chunk is apparently unloved in the Oakervee Review, according to leaked reports. It’s a subject to which we will return in a follow-up blog.

HS2 benefits don’t land just where it’s built

We need to understand a key aspect of HS2: it is not a free-standing scheme. Rather, it’s a major upgrade to the national rail network. Indeed, each of the three HS2 ‘chunks’ comes with new connections to the existing network so that as soon as they are built, high-speed trains can run onwards over existing lines to reach places such as Liverpool, Newcastle, Stoke-on-Trent, Wigan, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

You don’t often hear it said, but the first chunk (Phase 1, Midlands-London) uses these connections to bring very substantial benefits to the North, to Scotland, to North Wales – as well as to the Midlands and the South East.

The largest speed-up of Anglo-Scottish services, and for services between NW England and the capital, and therefore the biggest impact on reducing short-haul flights, for example, stems from Phase 1.

Let’s be crystal clear. Ditching the first chunk (and the much smaller second chunk) would deny the North, Scotland and North Wales and the nation as a whole getting these benefits.

The spread of benefits of HS2 are not restricted to the regions in which it is built.

HS2 parts Location Length Regions and nations that benefit Delivery date
The first chunk:

Phase 1

West Midlands-London 140 miles Scotland, the North West, North Wales, West Midlands, South East 2030
The second, smaller chunk:

Phase 2a

North West-West Midlands 40 miles Scotland, the North West, North Wales, West Midlands, South East 2030 (probably sooner)
The third big chunk:

Phase 2b

Yorkshire (Leeds)-East Midlands-West Midlands and North West extensions (Manchester/Wigan) 150 miles Scotland, the North East, Yorkshire, the North West, East and West Midlands, the South East 2040 (probably)

Phase 2a and Phase 1 can be built simultaneously – that is starting in the north and south at the same time. They are projects for the 2020s. Neither Phase 2b nor the Northern Powerhouse Rail project can be built in this timescale. Neither has begun the necessary parliamentary approvals process.

Given the geographical spread of HS2 project benefits, Government can and should press the ‘go’ button on Phases 1 and 2a now, and get HS2 done.

Greengauge 21

January 2020




New report on HS2 highlights its carbon impacts

12 November, 2019

Lack of national transport capacity drives the need for HS2. And the carbon advantage of electrified rail means that HS2 is better than any alternative investment response in climate change terms.

A new report – HS2: Towards a Zero Carbon Future – produced for HSR Industry Leaders by independent author Ralph Smyth, speaks of a transport policy hierarchy aimed at sustainable outcomes. The first measure in the hierarchy after reducing the demand for travel is driving positive modal sift, his report shows. Attract people away from the most carbon-intensive transport options to the least.

Electrified rail is the only high-capacity alternative that offers a realistic prospect of zero carbon travel.

With the main travel arteries – mainline railways,

Read on »

Challenging region inequalities: the transport element

1 October, 2019

Greengauge 21 was asked to provide a key policy component in the UK 2070 Commission’s enquiry into regional inequalities that reported in September 2019. As one of its seven priorities in a call for action, the Commission calls for a connectivity revolution.

The full Greengauge 21 report can be found here: The UK’s 2070 Transport Infrastructure Requirement

In an era of online, digitised and personalised consumption patterns, it still makes sense to address the nation’s needs primarily through a network of shared transport services (rail, metro and bus).

Such an approach contributes to meeting Government-adopted environmental targets. It builds on what exists (a substantial rail network) and provides the missing links, electrifies all busy routes, and – for the first time in the UK – proposes an integration of rail and bus, longer distance and local services, with common fares and a set of hubs and ‘mini-hubs’. It has the potential for more efficient use of limited network capacity, and to contribute to meeting Government-adopted environmental targets.

The UK2070 Commission’s vision for a connected Britain, is based on environmental standards

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Why HS2 needs to go all the way

24 September, 2019

An assessment of Lord Berkeley’s ideas to scale back HS2

Now that he is appointed deputy Chairman of the Government’s Review of HS2, it is worth re-visiting Lord Berkeley’s opinions on the project. He wrote last year to every MP suggesting that either the additional costs for HS2 would have to be found or the whole scheme should be cancelled, and the money put into smaller schemes and focused on the North.

But he also suggested a third way, reducing HS2’s specification from ‘vanity to capacity’ as he put it. This would entail building a line from Old Oak Common in West London to Crewe only – that is to say, Phases 1 and 2a only, but scrapping all HS2 lines going into city centres. He would also have Handsacre Junction (where Phase 1 meets Phase 2a) removed from the project and top speeds reduced from 360/400km/h to 320km/h. The latter, he claimed, alone would save 30-40% of the capital cost.

His scale-back would create a specification rather more suitable for rail-freight – a subject of considerable passion for Lord Berkeley. But he is not alone in suggesting that all would be fine if HS2 reached no closer to central London that Old Oak Common/Wormwood Scrubs.

His views are in a category of attempts to find a way to keep some of the project’s benefits while cutting its costs dramatically. Here we look at his proposal since no doubt it – or some variant of it – will still be in Lord Berkeley’s mind in his role as deputy Chair of the Government’s Review of HS2 now underway.

We find his ideas to be self-defeating, impracticable and lacking credibility.

Read on »

HS2 is not Amazonia

17 September, 2019

Sadly, environmental campaigners are being drawn into opposing HS2 on the false premise that HS2 is a major threat to England’s ancient woodlands.

So, here’s the truth:

  • Of the 52,000 ancient woodland sites in England, just 43 will be partially affected by HS2’s route between London and Crewe
  • Over 80% of the combined area across the 43 affected sites will remain intact and untouched by HS2
  • Overall 7 million new trees and shrubs will be planted on the first phase of the railway alone
  • A ‘Green Corridor’ between London and Birmingham with over 33 square kilometres of new wildlife habitat is being created by HS2

As Greengauge 21 has long argued, as electrical power generation is decarbonised, the new capacity that the project creates for travel by electrically-powered trains gives a boost to plans to reduce carbon emissions.

Current estimates are that by the time the London – Crewe line is open (now projected as 2030), travelling on HS2 will emit about 7 times less carbon emissions per passenger kilometre than the same journey by car and 17 times less than the equivalent domestic flight.

In succeeding years, these carbon savings will increase.

On balance, HS2 is a green project.